How To Stay Awake While Driving On Your Commute

SUMMARY POINTS

> Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as DUI
> Stay awake behind the wheel with stimulating activities
> Fix the root cause by getting more sleep at night

Last night, you only got a few hours of solid sleep and today was a long hard day at work. You’ve just barely made it through the afternoon, fighting head nods at your desk and yawning your way through meetings and calls.

And now, you’re walking to your car feeling absolutely drained. Your mental, emotional and physical batteries are all on empty and the warning light is blinking.

The drive home is going to suck, big time.

The only thing you’re thinking of is getting home and just going directly to bed. Screw preparing and eating dinner. Just crash into bed.

As you join the hordes of others commuting home, you struggle with keeping your eyes open. In fact, you’ll often catch yourself nodding off and then, snapping awake just in time.

And during gridlocked stop-n-go moments, you’ll doze off and just barely stay alert to avoid bumping into the car ahead of you. Or sometimes, you actually legit “micro-sleep” at stoplights, only to have the driver behind you honking their horn to jolt you awake.

The real nightmare is when you inadvertently drift over the lane into oncoming traffic or off onto the shoulder of the road, only to be startled awake by the rumble strips. Those are really scary moments.

Driving drowsy is a huge problem and it’s something that millions of us go through on a weekly basis. This is really dangerous shit.

It’s an epidemic that hides in the shadows of daily working life. With millions of people not getting enough sleep, working longer days and enduring longer commutes, driving drowsy is a real thing.

The Dangers Of Drowsy Driving

We’re all very familiar with the dangers of driving while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). However, what’s less talked about or publicized is driving while drowsy.

While most of us don’t commute while drunk or under the influence of drugs, we’ve all commuted to and from work in various states of sleepiness or fatigue.

Yet, most of us don’t take any real precautions or preventative measures to avoid falling asleep or dozing off at the wheel.

You are three times more likely to be in a car accident if you are fatigued. In fact, being really sleepy at the wheel can have the same effect (and consequences) as having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 which is the legal limit.

VIDEO: Missing A Few Hours Of Lost Sleep Increases Drowsy Driving Risks
YOUTUBE: NBC News
LENGTH: 1:53

​Summary points:
> Inadequate sleep exponentially increases risk of accidents
> Nodding off is sleeping for 2-3 seconds without any control
> Get more sleep to avoid fatigue and stay alert while driving

This study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that 328,000 drowsy driving crashes occur annually. That's more than three times the official police-reported number. It’s probably because not everybody will openly admit to being sleepy at the wheel and would rather say that they “didn’t see” the other car.

Microsleeping At The Wheel

Some of us may also experience this phenomenon called “micro-sleep” which are short, involuntary periods of instant sleep. It’s when your brain decides to shut things down for a few seconds and force you into a micro nap.

You’ve probably experienced this before while sitting on the couch after a long tiring day and watching TV. Your brain just decides to turn off the lights and unplug for a few seconds.

You may have also experienced this in the car while driving too. This is dangerous.

It’s one thing to doze off at your desk while analyzing an excel eye-chart, but it’s entirely another while driving.

In the few seconds that a driver experiences micro-sleep at highway speeds, the vehicle will travel the entire length of a football field. A lot can happen in that distance.

Even in local driving situations, it’s scary as hell to think what could happen if you involuntarily got lulled into microsleep while driving through a red light or intersection.

No bueno, folks.

Top 10 Tips To Stay Awake While Driving

The most obvious thing to say here is to simply get more solid sleep at night - like at least 7-8 hours consistently. And the best way to do that is to get to bed earlier

When we give our minds and bodies the rest it needs, it can then repair, recover and recharge from the day’s activities.

But hey, we know life can get super busy and there are tons of to-do’s, both at work and at home. And, the best way to get more shit done is to sacrifice sleep so that you can get to everything, including your own down-time.

We get it.

However, just know that burning the candle on both ends isn’t a sustainable long-term solution. It will catch up with you sooner or later.

Okay, with that said, if you find yourself tired at the end of the day and about to drive home, here are ten tips for staying awake and alert on your commute home.

1) Gulp Down A Cup Of Coffee One Hour Prior

About an hour before you head home for the evening, brew up a fresh cup of coffee in the break room. Don’t drink the stale crap that’s been sitting in the pot for the entire afternoon. Just make a fresh one.

Then, enjoy the java as part of your end-of-day routine to disconnect from work.

This will help you mentally check out from the day’s stresses and allow enough time for the caffeine to take effect just in time for when you start the drive home. It will also wear off in time before going to bed.

2) Laugh Your Ass Off With Podcasts

Did you know that laughing is a huge stimulant? Laughter triggers all sorts of feel-good hormones like endorphins that keep your brain alert and wanting more.

You know those times where you were laughing so hard that your stomach hurt? You felt like you were gonna piss your pants? You couldn’t even breathe?

Betcha didn’t feel tired or sleepy in those moments.

It’s impossible to be laughing and sleepy at the same time.

Well, comedians are professionals who know how to get chuckles out of your system. They’re skilled artists in generating laughter.

So, search “comedy” in your fav podcast app and download a few to try out. You can turn your commute from boring torture to hilarious mayhem. And if comedy, isn’t your thing, you can also check out happy podcasts too.

3) Crank Up The AC or Roll Windows Down

This is definitely a tried-n-true old skool tip. It works phenomenally well during the winter when the outside air temp is freeze-your-ass off cold.

It’s really easy to fall into a microsleep when the inside of your car is a toasty warm cabin with heated seats...ahhh, heated seats are oh-so good.

Well, when the fatigue is setting in, you can shock your mental and physical state by drastically changing your interior environment by rolling down the driver’s window or if you want to go all out, open up all the windows for an arctic blast.

If it’s summertime, do the opposite and roll up all the windows and crank up the A/C to the max until you’re borderline shivering. 

4) Do A Conference Call Commute with Your BFFs

If you’re BFFs live in the same time zone as you, they’re probably enduring the commute just like you. So, why not commiserate together?

Set up a BFF conference call commute with one or more friends. It’s a great way to catch up, get things off your chest, vent, laugh and even plan some fun things together.

Schedule it as a weekly repeating conference call and then you’ll have something to look forward to on your commute every week. 

5) Take A Pre-Commute Power Nap 

If you know that you’re gonna struggle with keeping your eyes open on the drive home, take a quick power nap at work or in your car right before you leave.

Here’s the in-car pre-commute nap process that we’ve done several times.

Make sure your car is parked in a well ventilated area.

Get in the car and get settled. Adjust the climate control. Set the timer on your phone for 20 minutes. Recline the seat. Then, snooze for 20 minutes. Any longer than that will make you groggier than normal.

Yes, it will prolong the amount of time it will take for you to get home. But, at least you’ll get home safely. It’s worth it.

If you get drowsy during the drive, get off the highway and pull into a parking lot and power nap there.

6) Rock Out With Your Own Concert

Remember your pre-teen and teen years when you were able to rattle off your fav band member names? Music during adolescence has a very deep influence and emotional attachment.

Classic rock of the 60’s and 70’s, Neon New Wave, 80’s classic rap, 90’s grunge - whatever genre that takes you back to that special era in your life, get in tune with that. Nostalgia has a way of stirring up feel-good emotions which will help keep you awake.

Or, cue up your fav genre of music on your streaming music app or put together a playlist of your all-time favorites and crank up the volume.

Grab your air microphone and start singing. Don’t forget your air drumsticks too!

7) Bring A Buddy & Carpool

Having some company in the car definitely keeps things more lively during the commute than being by yourself all the time. The best is being able to carpool with your BFF, but that doesn’t always work out.

If that’s the case, find a co-worker colleague that has a common work schedule as you and lives near where you live. Then, buddy up on the morning and evening commutes.

Not only will it keep things more fun, but it will also save time and money on the commute. There’s a lot of benefits to carpooling. Like, having a “get out of work” pass.

Having a legit reason for not joining that 5pm meeting or conference call is huge. You can just say, “sorry, I can’t make it. I’ve got carpool responsibilities.” Meaning, you’re either responsible for getting another co-worker home on time or that you can’t hold up the carpool group from going home on time.

8) Nibble On Whole Sunflower Seeds Or Chew Gum

This is a cool little road trip trick to staying awake - nibble on something. It’s odd, but keeping your mouth busy doing something keeps your brain alert.

One tip we got from a long-haul trucker is to nibble on whole sunflower seeds.

Using your teeth to crack open the outer shell and then, your tongue to extract the inner seed takes skill and concentration. Both of which will keep your brain from microsleeping.

Keep an empty disposal cup as your “spitoon” for the shells.

If seeds aren’t your thing, try bubble gum. You can smack, snap and blow bubbles to your heart’s content without annoying anyone else.

9) Listen To A Fast Paced Or Engaging Audiobook 

Even if you’re not a book reader, there are a few audiobooks that actually work really well in keeping you alert. It all depends on three big factors - the storyline, pace and the narrator.

Check out the reviews for the top-selling audiobooks and download a few in different categories like fictional suspense/thriller, non-fiction self-help, biographies, etc.

In other words, listening to 50 Shades Of Grey or Tony Robbins would be far better than Ben Stein’s narration of War and Peace.

If you don’t want to buy the audiobook, you can download them from your local public library as a loaner. This is a good option for those that don’t typically listen to an audiobook more than once. 

10) Use Chilled Wet Wipes To Cool Down Your Face & Neck

Here’s another little trick we use during hot summer months. We’ve all done the “splash your face with cold water” thing to wake up. However, this isn’t something that we can do while driving.

The next best thing is to use chilled wet wipes.

Buy several small travel size packs of mini wet wipes and keep them in the company fridge. Then, on those days where you know you’ll struggle with staying awake on the drive home, grab a small pack from the fridge for the drive home.

When you feel drowsy while driving, grab a chilled wet wipe and work it all over your face and neck while blasting A/C toward your face. This has the same effect as splashing cold water on your face.

And for the ladies, this is a little multi-tasking efficiency thing too as it can help to remove the day’s make-up off your face. 

Get More Sleep To Stay Alive & Drive!

We’re gonna say it again here because it’s the root cause of all this. You need to get more sleep. Period.

Set-up and structure your evenings so that you eliminate all the irrelevant bullshit that’s wasting your time (ahem - social media nonsense and binge-watching TV) and keep all the mandatory things to keep your life running smoothly - including getting to bed earlier.

It takes discipline to do this, but when you get it right, it makes your next day so much more productive, relaxed and less stressed.

In the meantime, use any combination of the tips mentioned above to carry you through the week. It’ll keep you from being a stoplight snoozer, minimize chances of getting into a fender-bender and ensure that you get home in one piece.

Be safe out there!

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]